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Bishops Urge Action Against Abortion

November 19, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation’s Catholic bishops say it’s not enough to oppose abortion personally without taking steps to stop it. They’re asking citizens to vote antiabortion candidates into public office.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 217-30 Wednesday for a statement that also urged Catholic officials to take action against abortion.

Catholic officials should focus on social issues such as poverty, housing and health care, they said. But being ``right″ on those issues ``can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.″

The statement, developed by seven of the eight U.S. cardinals, also said that officials who ``ignore church teaching on the inviolability of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of an innocent life.″

The Rev. Michael J. Sheehan, archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M., said the statement proves the Catholic Church ``remains the last great voice of the unborn.″

But opponents feared damaging repercussions.

``Any statement that tells people how to vote will be ill-received by Catholic and non-Catholic alike,″ said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.

``If a Catholic officeholder changes his position on life issues of abortion or the death penalty ... he or she could well be accused by political opponents of caving in to the dictates of the church, a tool of the bishops,″ Hubbard said. ``We should trust people ... to cast their votes.″

The bishops amended the statement in light of the recent murder of a New York doctor who performed abortions to say that ``those who would claim to promote the cause of life through violence ... contradict the gospel at its core.″

The bishops also discussed proposed new regulations for Catholic education that supporters say will lead to more consistent teachings at the nation’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Critics, however, believe they could erode academic freedom.

Those standards would require presidents of Catholic colleges to take an oath of fidelity to the church and require theologians to get permission to teach from local bishops. Catholic universities would be urged to recruit for their faculties only ``faithful Catholics.″

The new president of Catholic University in Washington, the Rev. David O’Connell, was planning to take the oath of fidelity to the church during his inauguration today, said college spokeswoman Annamarie DeCarlo.

Bishop Allen H. Vigneron, auxiliary bishop of Detroit, called the norms ``a solid mechanism for assuring Catholic identity of institutions.″

But Bishop John R. Roach, former archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, said he worries they ``may be a depressant to the quality of that dialogue.″

And Bishop Raymond J. Boland of Kansas City, Mo., fears the language is too vague. ``What exactly do we mean by the word faithful?″ he asked. ``A person who attends mass every weekend? What if they’re divorced, separated or remarried? Is there a litmus test?″

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